In a hyper-connected world, every consumer is continuously making a trade-off between the value of information and/or services they are receiving and the impact on privacy. I believe this comparison amounts to a “Return on Exposure” — a value exchange in which the consumer must determine if the value they’re receiving is worth what they are giving up in privacy.
Sometimes the exchange is straight-forward: I may or may not consider having my physical location broadcast from my mobile phone worth a coupon sent from a retail outlet when it ‘senses’ me nearby. I’m a big fan of an application that amalgamates data from my healthcare records, my location, and product information within a grocery store because I’m convinced that it helps me make better choices and results in better health.
A wonderful example of this value exchange has recently come up in the news with the potential Google acquisition the Israel-based GPS/Traffic/Direction software company WAZE. I and 50M other WAZIE’s use this application frequently for directions and more importantly for information on traffic, accidents & police hideouts. This is all done through crowdsourcing and the users continuously update the traffic conditions for the other WAZE users. Of course, you can opt out and not provide your location but the application won’t be able to give you real-time information on your route or turn by turn directions because it doesn’t know where you are. There you go, you are faced with a decision to evaluate your “ROE”. To tell or not to tell, that is the question. In my case and I would guess the majority of WAZE users we all willingly provide our location in order to receive the valuable information that will help us get to our destination in an informed way. Now that Google may potentially be acquiring WAZE does that change the Value exchange formula? If Google knows where you are, where you are going, who you might be meeting does that change the formula?
But outside of the straight-forward exchanges that you directly instigate, there is significant monetization of the individual that happens behind the scenes, with no direct financial benefit to the consumer – and insufficient transparency. As Michael Fertik, CEO and Founder, Reputation.com says in this interesting blog, “under the old system, companies that acquired data used it almost entirely for their own benefit, often at the price of consumer dissatisfaction.” For example, you may be given free Internet access in a café but the provider is able to see all your online behavior, add that information to a centralized profile of you as a consumer, and sell access to that profile.
I’m not here to question the value of living in a world where technology could be leveraged to make our lives easier, richer and more enlightened. What I am suggesting that more and more we will have to evaluate the value that we are receiving versus what we are giving up. I believe the future will give consumers more power over what they share and the value that they receive in return for their monetization. Currently, monetization is taking place on a huge scale, with mobile phone carriers and search providers in the driver’s seat. Google determines what you’re looking for through the exchange of cookies in a browser and then conducts a highly-lucrative auction to serve up ads based on your previous activity on the web. You may benefit by receiving ads for, say, a wider array of golf clubs than you could have found searching on your own, but the value is disproportionately small compared with the massive profits being reaped for access to your information.
I think the future will bring an opportunity for all of us to drive a new paradigm that I call “The Monetization of Me.” My dear friend, Toby Redshaw at the Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN) several years ago presented a concept of the human network which had multiple profiles like work, commute, home & travel. Each one of these profiles had a different set of requirement / preferences for how these assets (music, social, gaming, commerce, etc.) were accessed and used depending on where and what you were doing (preferences).
I predict that in the future, consumers will have the ability to monetize themselves, with an application, for example, that provides credits to a mobile phone bill. Existing technology allows businesses to offer discounts, status and even cash in exchange for delimited third-party access to their data. The enterprises that stand to gain most from this type of business model are financial institutions, ISPs and telecommunications companies: they possess huge consumer data sets but have been prevented via regulation from using the data in the same way that media businesses, especially Internet media companies, are already using every day. These previously-barred companies can unlock huge value by collaborating with their end users: the companies and consumers together can actually monetize the latent value of their data and even, in some way, of their mutual trust, perhaps through the medium of a trusted privacy intermediary. Trust is the key element in this model.
As the Internet of Everything brings even more devices online that generate data, additional data access issues are arising, for example between the ownership of the data and the subject of the data. Hugo Campos has an implanted cardiac defibrillator that ceaselessly flows information back to the product manufacturer – providing scientists at the company with valuable information that Campos believes could help him stay healthy. But the company won’t release the data to him, even though it’s about him, which means that the corporation now has more information on Campos’ heart than Campos has himself. He’s resorted to using an iPhone app to get info from his cardiac defibrillator because he’s locked out of the data stream from his own body! Campos is now part of a growing number of data-access activists who are asking: Who has the right to own, control, and use the information that devices collect on us?”